In the aftermath of the WBC, I sat watching the new champion celebrate at the far end of the stage while I chatted with four of our industries’ most respected contributors. The conversation very quickly came round to the World Coffee Throwing championships which had been held the night before and a lot of the focus was on the criticism that had been leveled at what the event was about.
Criticism, feedback and debate is something myself, Jenn, and Steve are not shy of and it was probably the highlight of my week to be probed, scorned, and praised by this small group of coffee pros. It made me think a lot about Coffee Throwing and where it was going and the reason why it all began.
Initially, it was just a joke. We were in Melbourne at the WBC and a small group of people had bumped into each other on the show floor when one asked “Wheres the barista championship?’ Someone else responded “its past the brewers cup, on the far side.”. Then someone asked “Are you going to the Aeropress comp?” and I, being a bit of a smart arse, quipped
“No, we’re going to the coffee throwing”.
That was it, just a joke about how many comps there were now. It seemed there was one in every corner of the building and it seemed funny to poke fun at. What was really funny was that about an hour later, I bumped into someone who asked me “Do you know where the coffee throwing is on?”. It was now a thing whether we liked it or not.
Last year we held the first Irish Coffee Throwing Championships at the Bernard Shaw and we had more entrants than the Irish Barista Championships. We held UK Barista Championships in Manchester at Cup North and had probably one of my favourite nights in coffee ever. Competitions have popped up in Canada, Australia, Sweden, to name but a few and on the night before WBC finals we held the first World Coffee Throwing Championships in the Bernard Shaw with over 60 entrants and even more spectators, either side of the rain showers.
I’d be lying if I said it was the first time we’ve received complaints, but one particular spectator who turned up on the night called us out on Instagram the next day, questioning the moral value of the competition.
First up, if we offended anyone in the past or present then we definitely need to own that. The competition has generally been well received by most, but the criticism we are willing to take on board and we accept responsibility in its entirety. We get why it’s offensive but would like to outline just a few things first before the internet outrage takes over.
The coffee we used that day was taken from the rubbish bin, literally. It was coffee that was unsellable, under roasted, over roasted, water damaged, trash. We took that coffee from the bin, brought it to the Bernard Shaw, and used it to bring about 100 coffee people together for some fun and raise some money for Grounds for Health, a charity focused on providing cervical screening for women in coffee growing regions.
To me, that’s a positive. It’s turning a negative into a very positive thing and the question I always pose to people is
“Should I have left it in the bin?”
The second thing is that I get how the aesthetic of throwing coffee is distasteful, crass, and even repulsive, but that’s kind of the joke. It feels wrong to do this, but that’s exactly what makes it interesting. It’s like being given a free ticket to smash up your neighbours car, break a Ming vase, or pour paint all over your carpet. It feels wrong, feels naughty, and seems ridiculous, but because the coffee has been paid for, relationships are not affected, and otherwise wasted coffee has been turned into a positive, you’ve been given a free pass and that’s why its ridiculous. That’s the joke.
The irony of all this is that coffee competition are notoriously wasteful events but, without the blunt aesthetic that Coffee Throwing has, it’s often going unnoticed. Over the years, I was one of few baristas that turned up to events with 3 or 4kgs of coffee and was taken aback by other competitors dragging up to 200kgs across the planet with them for no good reason.
I’ve no doubt that this stuck in the back of my head and contributed in no small way to Coffee Throwing emerging. It’s a fairly nuanced and convoluted thought process, but that’s the way it goes.
Here are a few things that I’d like you all to consider, I’m not making any judgments on these issues but I do think we can take time to think about
- Sieving coffee in Brewers Cup
- There is currently no limit on the amount of coffee a barista can bring to competition
- The widespread practice of seasoning burrs
- The issue of spent roasts at roasters and what to do with them
- The sustainability and supply chain of the current trend of Competition winning coffees
In saying all of that, I get that may be lost in communication to some and, like all jokes, it’s only funny for a short time. In truth, it was only supposed to happen once, but it kind of got a life of its own and took off. With that in mind, we have decided to kill Coffee Throwing and will no longer hold the events from this day forth. We raised some money, had some laughs and made some friends but its time to call it a day.
Finally, in true thought-piece style, I’d like to leave you with three unanswered questions:
- Was that immoral?
- Was that funny?
- What can we do next?
Thank you all for your support and criticism,
Colin (on behalf of Team TT)
We hosted the 2016 World Coffee Throwing Championships this past June when SCAE’s World Of Coffee visited our hometown of Dublin. Contestants in 3 different weight classes are charged with throwing their coffee kg as far as possible with a winner declared in each category based on a number of some very well thought out, but completely arbitrary rules.
Flyweight Champion: Wayne Oberholzer (The Portland Project, South Africa)
Featherweight Champion: Team V69’ers (Aisling, Luca, and Jeremiah for Rashel Winn | The Fumbally, Ireland)
Welterweight Champion: Emma Markland-Webster (Monster Trucks Coffee, New Zealand)